If you’re a non-Muslim with Muslim family, friends, and colleagues you might find yourself feeling unsure of what you should or should not during the month of Ramadan. “Can I eat in front of my Muslim friends? Is it offensive if I unintentionally invite them out for lunch?” – Little questions like this can be awkward, but they’re usually borne out of good intentions and we can promise you that your Muslim acquaintances appreciate your good intentions and concerns 😊
While Ramadan is intended to be non-intrusive on the lives of non-Muslims, living in a multicultural society and having friends from a range of backgrounds means that it’s also a good time to learn more about Muslim customs and traditions. So we’ve gathered some Ramadan etiquette tips for non-Muslims who want to help make their Muslim friends’ month go a little smoother!
1. Yes, it’s okay to eat in front of us … but please be understanding.
Food and eating (or lack thereof) are some of the most visible markers that Ramadan has arrived. In some countries, restaurants may even shut down for the month or change their hours. Here in Southeast Asia some Muslim-run stalls may do the same, but it’s much more common to notice that your friends or colleagues are staying away from the pantry, not joining you for lunch, or maybe even watching the clock more towards the end of the day 😅.
- Be comfortable drinking and eating around us – we feel bad when we see our friends feeling sheepish or shy to eat! Some of us may even feel comfortable sitting with you while you eat, it would be great if you could ask us first!
- We can only break our fast after the Maghrib prayer time at sunset (in Singapore and Malaysia that’s around 7.08 PM) so it would be great if you could shift your usual dinner meetup timings to coincide with it, or take a raincheck on those regular high tea sessions for a while 😅. In fact, we’re encouraged to meet up with old friends to break our fast and renew ties, and our Iftar (break fast) meal is the perfect opportunity.
- Whether you’re sitting down to a buffet with loved ones in Kuala Lumpur, or having a special meal together in Singapore, we’re always happy to break our fast with you and catch up over a good meal! Remember to factor in that you may have to arrive earlier at a Halal restaurant to get your seats and food in time as seats fill up fast and most people won’t leave until they’re done with their meals!
- If your Muslim friends are going to be out late for post-Terawih prayers supper (more on that below!) why not catch up about your week over a cup of warm teh tarik or a comforting plate of nasi lemak?
- If you’re organizing an event in the evening, make space and time for Muslims to break their fast and provide small snacks if possible. It can take just five or ten minutes, but it makes us feel much more included and it’s really appreciated after a long day of fasting!
2. No, we may not be able to spend as much time with you … but just for this month!
Ramadan is a month for self-reflection and spiritual development, and that may include spending more time renewing our faith and focusing on refilling our (metaphorical 😉) spiritual cup. Fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramadan is also one of the 5 pillars of the Islamic faith, which shows how special and truly treasured it is. As faith becomes more foregrounded during the month, other hobbies may take a backseat for a temporary moment – but rest assured, we’re looking forward to hanging out more after the month ends!
- Some Muslims take a social media, movie, or music fast too throughout the day or month, to concentrate on more religious endeavours such as reading the Quran (the goal is to finish it within the month!) or learning more about Islam. So don’t be surprised if we disappear from social media for the month, and might need to catch up on our favourite band’s latest hits or TV show’s latest episodes only after the month is over.
- Try to keep gatherings short if they’re in the middle of the afternoon – not just because your friends are tired, but because they may need to get home in time to break their fast.
- Be understanding if your friends may want to meet for a shorter period, or may even choose to stay at home more whether to rest, do extra prayers, or read the Quran. The rewards gained from activities such as praying are even greater during Ramadan, and we’re trying to get the most out of the month because the days will fly by so quickly! 😁
- Make time for communal Iftars instead – offering to cook and eat together is a great way to catch up and spend some time together! Don’t be shy to ask us anything about Ramadan/Islam while we’re at it. We’re always open to answering your questions too, but make sure not to ask something condescending (e.g. whether you can eat if no one else is watching). Most of us are understanding if you don’t know enough about Ramadan and have some questions, and we’re all for letting you learn more about our faith if you ask politely. (Or check out some answers to common questions about Ramadan here!)
3. Yes, our schedules do change … and we really hope you can understand if we become more nocturnal.
Fasting from dusk to dawn lasts about 14 hours in Southeast Asia (from 5 AM+ to 7 PM+) and we actually have to finish eating before dusk so we might even wake up at 3 AM or 4 AM to do our meal prep! It’s a big change to our daily routines, even if it’s not immediately visible. And while Ramadan is intended to be unobtrusive to non-Muslims, the reality of living in a multicultural society means that our schedules are all bound to be affected regardless of faith.
- If you have Muslim employees, offer to let them arrive and leave earlier so that they can get home in time for Maghrib. If you see Muslim colleagues struggling to finish their work before they leave, reach out and offer some help or support if you can.
Credit: Amila Tennakoon on Flickr
- Terawih prayers are a type of optional extra group prayers that only take place during Ramadan, and take place in the evening after Iftar has been eaten. Prayers can take up to an hour or more depending on how long the prayer service is. Because of this, we can end up awake much later than usual (even more so if we go out for supper afterwards) or too tired to hang out the next day.
- We may end up more tired as the month goes by, and we really hope you understand why 😅. Even if you’re not fasting yourself, it’s always heartening to see how much our non-Muslim friends care in the smallest of ways (asking us what time we can eat, expressing concern when it seems like we’re too tired or feeling unwell).
- At the same time, we appreciate it if you treat us the same as any other day – the point of Ramadan is that we’re supposed to face the same everyday challenges and temptations. While we may be a little tired, hungry, or grumpy, the underlying intention is for this to make us empathise more with the more vulnerable in society and to recognize our own vulnerability and struggles. ☺️
4. No, it’s not just about abstaining from eating … it’s so much more than that.
Ramadan is about self-control and awareness, and that extends not just to when we can eat, but what we do, and how we do it. It is a month where we try to break bad habits (such as swearing) and form better ones, so don’t be surprised if your friends are more careful with their actions and behaviours.
- Offer encouragement and support if your friend has decided to try to overcome certain struggles or hurdles. For example, if they’ve decided to stop swearing, help hold them accountable (maybe a swear jar? 😆) and they will be very grateful for it.
- If you’re thinking about trying out fasting with us – let us know! We’re always excited to see our non-Muslim friends try it out, and don’t worry if you do try and need to break your fast mid-day. We can remember our own ‘first-time fasts’ when we were kids, and since it’s not obligatory for non-Muslims either we really appreciate your effort in going the extra mile 😊.
We hope that you feel more reassured after reading this! Ramadan is an important month where we’re making changes that we hope will last and will help us become better people, and we really appreciate having our friends (of all faiths!) along on this journey with us ☺️.